Forged By Fire: Black Millennial Innovation
From police brutality to biased media, the social issues confronting Black Millennials are daunting, but this generation is using this oppression to fuel their innovation.
For four weeks straight, the donations flooded in from across the country. On phones, tablets, and computers, people logged onto Crowdrise to provide the homeless with jobs and coats as apart of Chance The Rapper’s Warmest Winter Initiative.
“Living in Chicago growing up, I knew a lot of homeless,” Chance said in a recent interview. “There would be so many homeless that I would just sit and grab knowledge from…They were people of influence, people who had fallen on hard times”
Chance’s online activism for The Warmest Winter is only his most recent digital foray. From his partnership with Chicago Public Library’s YOUmedia to starting his music career on Soundcloud, Chance, like many other Black Millennials, grew up using technology imaginatively.
As Black Millennials progressed through grade school, the web blossomed connecting communities and increasing transparency. But for all of its blessings, this technology would be a double-edged sword. Because even as the internet provided exposure for artists like Chance, it also streamed the murders of Black youth like Tamir Rice and Mike Brown.
“For Black Millennials, technology’s promise was always tainted by the institutional racism it exposed.”
For nearly a decade, this overt disdain for Blacks lives streamed onto small screens slowly eroding Black Millennials faith in civic institutions. So naturally, when they came of age and began seeking solutions to issues in their community, like police brutality or the digital divide, they looked outside politics — they look towards technology.
“The tools that we have to organize and to resist are fundamentally different than anything that’s existed before in Black struggle.” — DeRay Mckesson
BlackLivesMatter protestor, DeRay Mckesson is a product of this political environment. As a protester in Ferguson, he was jarred by what he saw. “I just couldn’t believe that the police would fire tear gas into what had been a peaceful protest,” he told a New York Times reporter. “I was running around, face burning, and nothing I saw looked like America to me.”
Mckesson documented the police attacks on his Twitter account to counter the mainstream media’s bias. Since Ferguson, he has traveled across the country using social media to empower communities victimized by police brutality. Mckesson shows how this generation creatively applies technology for social good.
However, Black Millennials don’t just use this technology, they want to produce it too. But with only 1% of venture capital funding going to internet companies with a Black founder, the barriers for Blacks in this industry are steep.
Enter Laura Weidman Powers, CEO of CODE2040. Powers works with students, entrepreneurs, and corporations to create more jobs for Blacks and Latino/as in the technology industry. Her coalition building is closing the digital divide and ensuring that the next generation of Blacks are producers, as well as consumers of technology.
This gross underrepresentation isn't exclusive to the tech industry. As seen this month’s Oscar nominations, Blacks are marginalized in mass media as well. This issue inspired entrepreneur DeShuna Spencer to found @kweliTV and empower Black content producers. KweliTV is “an interactive, streaming network offering on-demand indie films, web shows, documentaries, historical & educational content, and news programming for and by the global Black community.”
As for Chance The Rapper, he used his social media presence to partner with the social enterprise, The Empowerment Plan. Together, they raised $117,532 in four weeks to educate, employ, and empower homeless individuals in Detroit and Chicago. The program hires and trains homeless people “to manufacture a coat that transforms into a sleeping bag at night, and a bag when not in use.”
From the Warmest Winter fundraising to the #BlackLivesMatter protests, Black Millennials are combining technology, advocacy, and enterprise to circumvent unaccountable political systems and achieve change. In the face of terror and injustice, they have launched a social media movement that is reforming the American criminal justice system, and they aren't stopping there. Whether its employing underrepresented minorities or clothing the homeless, Black Millennials will continue to use the world’s newest tools to solve the country’s oldest problems.